San Luis Obispo
: Paso Robles AVA

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

An isolated inland plain, where the headwaters of the Salinas river congregate, Paso Robles earned an early reputation as a place where outlaws could hole up, no questions asked. Locals still cultivate the impression that this is a haven for the disconnected—James Dean ended his briefly rebellious life in a nearby automobile accident in the 1950s. From the 1880s onward, its role as a wine district was to produce the kind of sun-baked, high-alcohol, fiercely tannic Zinfandels that could pull an outlaw into a saloon on the bleak, wintry nights that are almost as common hereabouts as blistering summer days. Since its confirmation as an AVA, newcomers in an expanding roster of local wineries moved on to embrace Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay in vineyards set on a restlessly rolling plain of former alfalfa fields east of Paso Robles town, and the cooler, calcareous viticultural areas west of the city. The Zinfandelists have stuck with their traditional haunts in high hills to the west of town, but now even they are joining up as growers of Cabernet and Rhône varieties. It surprises many that Cabernet, with 39% of acreage in 2013, is the most-planted wine grape in Paso Robles and that ‘other reds’ are second, at 16%. They include Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Petit Verdot. Merlot follows at 14%, with Syrah and Zinfandel at 9% and 8% respectively. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc have become rarities, replaced by ‘other whites’ including Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Roussanne. J. Lohr is the largest player, though not large by central valley standards, and its bottlings range from competent to exceptional across several price tiers. Justin, Wild Horse, Eberle, Adelaida, and Castoro are core producers, and the investment made by the Perrin family of Ch de Beaucastel in châteauneuf-du-pape with their American importer Robert Haas has paid off handsomely in excellent Rhône varietal wines at Tablas Creek in the western sector of the appellation. Tablas Creek’s vine nursery, established from cuttings taken from Beaucastel, has supplied US grape growers with top-quality plant material. Some of the beneficiaries are in Tablas Creek’s own backyard, small Paso producers of blends made in the image of southern Rhône reds, more popular single-varietal examples.